The young women come out at night to sell themselves, or more accurately, rent themselves. Some are too young… and some of them are men. The other men are selling street-viagra. After a few circular discussions I learn to wave them all away with a smile and simple ‘thank you’.
This is the red-light district in Makati, Manila; an infamous strip of bars, clubs and street life where people do whatever they must to get by. Still however, as everywhere in Philippines, the locals are friendly and ever smiling. We walk past the Midget Boxing bar. A couple of little people are standing outside having a cigarette before starting their shift.
Smoking in public has now been banned however by president Rodrigo Duterte, for health reasons, so the smokers have been comically pushed back into the bars. We hit up a tequila joint where the beaming waitress gives us two shots, two beers and half a coca-cola can… my ashtray. Smoking is illegal inside the bars too of course, but management knows exactly what time the police will be arriving to check for code violations and accept their small bribe. By coincidence, this takes place half way through our first beer. The waitress apologises for taking my ashtray and says I will be able to smoke again in ten minutes. A duo performs live in the corner and everyone is singing, because… Philippines.
We move on… perhaps a bite to eat at the next bar. This one’s a sports bar called Howzat! That means cricket, and that I like. We order drinks and I look through the laminated menu. Now I don’t feel so hungry.
“This is weird,” I think aloud, pointing at the big orange face enticing me to crave a burger, but having the opposite effect.
“Maybe it’s just a coincidence”, she says. My friend and companion is also my guide – a Manila native, and before I can prompt her to complete her somewhat cryptic remark, she tells me she’ll show me later. We have a couple more drinks. We don’t order the burgers.
A bit more bar-hopping, people watching, then a stroll back to the hotel, just around the corner. It’s quiet on the thirtieth floor balcony. The infamous P. Burgos street seems a world away.
“Recognise that building over there? We saw it earlier today when we were walking”.
“Oh, shit… that’s Trump Tower.” Spacial orientation isn’t my strongest suit.
The building is (of course) the tallest in the area, just higher than its neighbour. It has to be. It’s got Trump’s name at the top. It was completed this very month… November, 2017. From our view 30 floors up the garish glass tower looms imposingly… and, though brand new, several windows are missing which hopefully didn’t kill anyone upon impact.
At the top of this ugly glass phallus is an extra bit of nothing at all, just to be sure I guess. Trump wins! It doesn’t matter that the building is already falling apart, having just been completed… or that the older residential building next door has balconies, and windows that open instead of crashing to the street below. Trump is bigger!
It’s kind of apt I think. Where better to slap your name on the tallest building, the biggest burger, than in a neighbourhood where people pay to watch little people beat each other up; where, due to poverty, underage prostitutes come from the provinces to sell themselves to despicable old men… and street hustlers know the most viable market is… viagra?
Stay classy Don.
…for the record, by day Makati is a shopping and financial hub. This is one microcosm of Philippines, one of the world’s truly beautiful places.